the most non-academic lecture ever

This year’s SMA Lecture, Medicine and the Next ICE Age, was held on 5 November 2011 at the KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital Auditorium. It was delivered by Dr Tan Lai Yong, who spent 15 years training village doctors in Yunnan, China.

Some of us went down to KKH to help out, and I had the additional duty of covering the event.

The SMA Lecture was instituted in 1963 and its themes are centred on medical ethics and related topics. SMA Lecturers are appointed by invitation from the SMA Council, and the lectureship is awarded in the main to eminent and distinguished persons who have made significant contributions to medicine and the community. (This is the paragraph that all reports on SMA Lectures traditionally begin with, and of course, so did mine. :) )

Dr Tan had promised, in an earlier interview, that this SMA Lecture “would be the most non-academic lecture ever”. He did not disappoint, as he peppered a meaningful speech with humorous anecdotes. (For more details, read my report HERE.)

And here are my absolute favourite quotes from his lecture:

On his love for sleeping:

‘When I was in Kunming, I was in a little church group that met on Sundays. As we had no full time clergy, we used to take turns to preach. One day it was my turn to preach, after that I went home and was sleeping on my couch, when some people came and knocked on my door. My little son, who was about five or six, opened the door and said to the visitors, “Oh Papa, Papa is sleeping now because he did not get to sleep in church this morning!”’

On Singaporeans contributing to charitable causes in China:

‘There was this lady with a tumour on her head. She came from Yunnan to Singapore and went to Raffles Hospital. Her mother waited for me in the lobby downstairs and asked me, “When is the market day?” They had a market day once a week (in the village). She said, “My daughter is going for surgery and she needs some meat. I don’t see any cows. Where are we going to buy meat?” I assured her that there would be meat.

‘At the pre-op meeting, Prof Walter Tan (Medical Director of Raffles Hospital) sent out signals, and 24 specialists gathered to offer their services, from radiologists to neurosurgeons. My friend from Yunnan was amazed. He said, “Which leader summoned them here?” I said, “No leader summoned them here. They sent out some emails asking for volunteers, described the case, and volunteers came.” The surgery was done, and this lady went home very well.’

On cheating in China:

‘One day I bought some apples. But the man shortchanged me. I went to him and said, “You are cheating me because I am a foreigner, right?” He said, “No no no, I cheat everybody!”’

On going to China:

‘I always tell people that I went to China, I don’t really speak Chinese. I don’t have a love for Chinese culture. I came from Siglap Secondary School where 90% of my friends spoke Malay. I always tell this joke.

‘Because I went (to China) with this Christian-based agency, they asked, “Ni shi bu shi chuan dao?” (“Are you an evangelist?” Chuan dao means “evangelist” but is a homonym for “by boat”.)

‘“Chuan dao?” I never heard of this phrase before. “Wo zuo fei ji lai!” (“By boat? I came here by aeroplane!”)

‘And the officer basically looked at me and said, “I think you’re quite harmless. You can come.”’


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